Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 9/19/08

I want to start off with last night’s standout show: the fourth-season premiere of SUPERNATURAL. Last season ended with Dean getting dragged down to hell, and last night he awoke in his coffin and clawed his way out of his own grave. That certainly was special. (The opening flashes of Dean in the box would have made Italian giallo maestro Dario Argento proud with its lurid reds and blacks). As befits such a series, Bobby assumed the resurrected Dean was a disguised demon and tried to kill him. Even Sam had the same reaction — before the inevitable joyful reunion. Viewers got a real sense of universe from the way word of Dean’s escape from Hades had spread through the preternatural community, with everyone (including Dean) asking: How the hell did he get out of hell? The answer was entirely logical — and stunningly unexpected. Dean was rescued by Castiel — “an angel of the Lord.” Yep, SUPERNATURAL went there. 

There’s an understanding in occult comic books, TV and most movies: It’s okay to depict demons, monsters, hell and assorted manifestations of hell, but you don’t depict God or angels, because that might “offend” people. Nobody cares if a writer disses a devil, but hands off the divine. Well, SUPERNATURAL crossed that line, and I’m damned happy it did. Why shouldn’t angels be fair game? Especially when someone as talented as series creator Eric Kripke is doing the writing. The angel was depicted as massively powerful — too powerful for lower beings like humans and demons to comprehend. And he came with a bombshell: Dean was pulled out of hell “because God commanded it. We have work for you.” It’s going to be one hell of a season! 

Although it wasn’t up to the level of SUPERNATURAL, the premiere of SMALLVILLE really felt different from the previous seven seasons. Most folks are probably unaware that Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, the executive producers who translated the Superman comics to the small screen for SMALLVILLE, left the series over the summer, but I noticed. I had the pleasure of interviewing both gentlemen a number of times over the years, and they are both talented guys who were dedicated to putting out the best show possible; they really believed in the material and held true to their vision. In my very first interview with Al, the summer before SMALLVILLE debuted, he laid out their “no flights, no tights” policy, and except for a few storyline-dictated temporary deviations, Clark remained earth-bound, and we have yet to see the red-and-blue longjohns. I salute their seven fun seasons. But I’m here to assure fans the show is in good hands. New exec producers Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer have been with the show for a long time, and they know what works. 

But the new regime also took the opportunity to tinker a bit — the most obvious change was Clark suddenly growing a sense of humor. (Even Lois was shocked!) The disappearance of Lex was expected, since Michael Rosenbaum has left the show (He might be convinced to return for a guest spot, but don’t bet on it), and Lana is not expected back until much later in the season. I did enjoy the return of Green Arrow, Aquaman and Black Canary, played by the same actors: (Justin Hartley, Alan Ritchson and Alaina Huffman). Hartley (ex-Fox, PASSIONS) is now a series regular, and while he won’t be in every episode (next week’s, for example) Oliver Queen will be a major player, which I welcome. I did hate one idea, however: the idea that LuthorCorp suddenly has some kind of magic serum (synthesized from the spinal fluid of Chloe’s mother, no less!) that can control people’s minds. Huh? What’d I miss? 

The best (and most important) development last night was character development — specifically Clark’s. Although Jor-El stripped Clark of his powers, he still acted like a hero. He relentlessly tried to escape from the Russian work camp and later fearlessly risked his life to help his friends. Clark was determined to help, no matter what. In fact, he got himself killed, only to be saved by the timely self-sacrifice of the Martian Manhunter. With the villain Doomsday on the way this season, I wonder if Clark dying is going to be a theme. (Doomsday was the baddie who killed Superman in the comics back in 1992.) Clark finally realized he has a Destiny (Yes, one with a capital D), and resolved to pursue it. And, oh, yeah — he took that job at the Daily Planet. I won’t mind if the Last Son of Krypton takes to the skies this season — just don’t put on the tights… 

Sure, last night’s BURN NOTICE was billed as the “season finale,” but it was just the “summer” wrap — the show will be back with five more new episodes in January. But that didn’t make the episode any less important. I have to admit that I have been a little disappointed in the apparent aimlessness of this season’s stories — there just has not been enough “mythology” for me. I regard the slowly unfolding story of Michael’s burning as the real point of the show; the client of the week is just window-dressing and an excuse to keep Michael doing something. After the first two episodes, Michael’s tale was shunted to the far back burner while he took on (admittedly) entertaining cases that were quickly forgotten. But last night put Michael’s burning squarely on the…er, front burner. And that meant the return of bombshell Tricia Helfer as Michael’s handler, the mysterious Carla. Apparently the producers suddenly remembered that they had hired Tricia Helfer — and put Carla in a variety of bathing suits and other clingy attire while Sam and Michael ogled…um, I mean, surveilled her to get to the bottom of why she’s manipulating Michael. (In the words of sage Sam, “You gotta love it when you tail somebody to a place that serves a good mojito.”) The operative realized he had been forced to secure a sniper rifle and passkey, obviously tools for an assassination — but who was the target? 

This episode, “Good Soldier,” also marked a return to teaching viewers cool real-life spy stuff, like the best way to hide items in your home (using easy-to-access, yet hard-to-find spots called “slicks”); how to beat facial-recognition security software with a photocopy of a guy’s face; and how to drink a lot without getting drunk (better left unsaid here). Star Jeffrey Donovan (ex-Dwayne, ANOTHER WORLD) also got his only chance so far this season to really cut loose with some emoting. Michael had to spin a lie to dissuade a client, so he made a speech about recognizing his own faults and seeing what’s been in front of him all along — but from Donovan’s emotion-clogged delivery and red-rimmed eyes, we knew he was talking directly to Fiona about letting her get away. But did Michael get away from the bomb Carla planted at his loft? I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Michael got singed but survives to finish out the season.

Oh, yeah? Sez you!

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